PUCL Bulletin, January 2005
Review of human rights in Chhattisgarh in
the second half of 2004
The Human Rights situation in the State has definitely worsened in the second half of the year. There have been several custody deaths, fake encounters and incidents of caste violence, the most prominent of which have been investigated by PUCL Chhattisgarh.
Appropriate recommendations for action have been made to the State Authorities and steps have been taken to disseminate the findings through the media as an ongoing public education initiative. We wish to share with readers of the PUCL Bulletin our activities in this regard.
Report on the arrest and custodial death of Ramkumar Dhruv, and police atrocities on protesting villagers
A PUCL Team investigated the custody death of Ramkumar Dhruv in Sohela Thana in Raipur District and the incidents that followed in which a public protest meeting was brutally lathi charged by the police outside the Thana on August 31, 2004.
Ramkumar Dhruv a tribal young man from Bhalesur Village was arrested by the Sohela Police on charges of a minor theft on August 8, 2004. Three days later he was paraded in his native village and two surrounding villages with his hands tied behind this back and in an obviously injured condition under police escort. On 13 August he was found hanging from a ventilator in the Police Thana. The Police quickly registered a case of suicide and conducted a hasty burial after a postmortem report of suicide. However, the matter caused widespread anger and discontent in the neighboring villages, and a second postmortem ordered by the High Court after a public interest intervention by a local NGO, showed evidence of severe beating and internal injuries as a result of beating. On August 31, 2004 a crowd of people assembled outside the Thana demanding action against officials who had tortured Ramkumar to death. The situation turned violent, after a police lathi charge on the protestors, and police officials beat up several Journalists who were covering the event.
The PUCL investigation involved widespread discussions with villagers around Sohela, officials, Journalists and members of the second postmortem team. The team came to a conclusion that Ramkumar had been severely tortured in police custody and that this could have been a contributory factor to his death at the very least. The action of the police in suppressing people’s democratic dissent and in preventing Journalistic coverage of this suppression was highly objectionable. The original charge of theft on Ramkumar was possibly fabricated and related to feudal land relations in the area, and the police were acting in close collusion with local landlords. PUCL referred this matter to the State Human Rights Commission and demanded a Judicial Enquiry in to the entire episode. Both these processes are currently under way.
Investigation into death due to custody violence of Sukhlal Lodhi
Sukhlal Lodhi died on the night of 2 September, 2004 at Bhilai. Following a family dispute he had reportedly taken his wife Sukhdai to Bhilai Railway Station to send her home to his village of origin. Sukhdai was unwilling to leave, and at the railway station contacted the GRP personnel seeking their help to persuade her husband not to send her away. They missed the train and Sukhdai came home leaving her husband with the GRP personnel. After an hour, she was informed by a neighbor that Sukhlal was in hospital with severe injuries and three broken ribs. He died in hospital (Bhilai Steel Plant Hospital, Sector-9, Bhilai) after repeatedly asserting that he had been beaten up by the railway police.
The GRP and the Thana police, when contacted by the PUCL Team, insisted that Sukhlal had a criminal background and in proof of this showed them a list of cases involving Sukhlal between 1985-93. concluding that this was hardly a justification for beating him to death, PUCL Chhattisgarh demanded a judicial Probe in to the incident and action against the guilty officials.
Investigation into the custody death of Bannu Ram Satnami
Bannu Ram Satnami died in police custody in Piparia Thana district Kawardha on 6 October, 2004. he had been taken in to custody for questioning in connection with a separate incident in village Mathani. According to witnesses he was severely beaten during questioning. He was seen by many people being forced to work on road leveling in front of the Thana. His death body was found near a Electric Transformer and the police claimed that he had died when he accidentally touched a live wire. An angry crowd gathered to protest against this second custody death in the state within one month, and in repetition of the Sohela Case the police lathi charged protesting villagers and reporting journalists. The body of Bannu was hastily cremated in violation of the customs of the Satnami Community. The administration later tried to pacify the people by announcing an ex gratia payment of Rs. one lakh to the family of Bannu.
The PUCL Team investigating the case concluded that the police and the district administration had combined to suppress the facts of the case and that caste hatred against the Satnamis among Upper Caste administrative personnel was a contributory factor in this incident. The Team demanded a proper enquiry, compensation, and a complete review of custodial procedures and protocols so that repeated incident of custodial violence and death could be avoided.
Violation of D.K. Basu protocol
The Custody Deaths of Ramkumar Dhruv, Sukhlal Lodhi and Bannu Satnami are the latest in a series of custody deaths in Chhattisgarh. Following the investigation into these cases, PUCL Chhattisgarh made a representation to the State Human Rights Commission listing the many cases of custody death since the new state was formed and demanding action in bringing the guilty to book.
In 2002-2003 there are reported to have been 1350 custody deaths in the country. The Chhattisgarh list includes:
Baldau Kaushik on 22 May, 2001 in Kawardha Thana; Shiv Kumar on September, 2001 in Bilaspur Thana; Bhagwanta Sahu on April, 2002 in Navagarh Thana (Bemetara); Naresh Das on 31 October, 2003 in Central Jail of Raipur; Rajesh of poisoning on June, 2004 in Arang Thana.
Chhattisgarh has a poor record of observations of human rights protocols including and most prominently the D.K. Basu Protocol in regard to rights of accused or those facing police arrests. Apart from custody deaths there have been several known cases of violation of D.K. Basu Protocol in the recent history of Chhattisgarh of these PUCL investigations have earlier been conducted in the following cases.
Death in custody of Sunhar Nishad on 14 January 1999; Death in Custody of Baldau Kaushik on 23 May, 2002; Death in false encounter of Prasidhi Thakur on 22 August, 2003; Deaths in false encounter with CRPF personnel of Budhram and Sukhram Sahu at village Jiramtarai on 17 November, 2003; Rape of a woman by uniformed police personnel in Thana Kusmi in Sarguja District on 3 April 2004
The entire list, details of PUCL reports have been forwarded to State Human Rights Commission and to the Human Rights Law Network for following up on violation of D.K. Basu Protocol.
Caste violence in Ghumka
On August 16, 2004 village Ghumka in Balod Tehsil district Durg was rocked by unprecedented caste violence in which Upper Caste Goons attacked men, women and children belonging to 28 Satnami (Scheduled Caste) families and the women Sarpanch of the village injuring many people and terrorizing the entire scheduled caste population of the area.
The Ghumka incident can been traced to a social boycott to which the Satnami community had been subjected for the past several years. On this particularly they, violence erupted because a Satnami youth had gone to the local doctor demanding treatment. The doctor refused to treat this patient as the family was included in the social boycott. There was an argument and the Upper Caste leaders of the village met and decided to teach the Satnamis a lesson. The well planned attack on Satnami homes was carried out at early dawn in which women and children were molested, cattle beaten at the stalls, grain and property looted. Among those severely injured were:
1. Ambika Lal Bakshi, 2. Than Singh, 3. Amil Prashad, 4. Usha Bai Bakshi, 5. Gaindi Bai; 6. Godawari; 7. Kumari Bai, 8. Hira Bai, 9. Ubalchand, 10. Birjhu Ram, 11. Chherka Ram, 12. Makhan Ram, 13. Rajesh Kumar
The local police initially did not register an FIR, and despite appeals by the families of the injured and leaders of the Satnami Community. Refused to register cases under section 310 of the IPC.
A PUCL Team investigated the Ghumka incident and concluded that the Law and Order machinery was playing a partisan role in this case, and that there was prima facie evidence that they were colluding with the Upper Caste fundamentalist forces in the area. This incident threw up several questions about the democratic spaces enjoyed by the weaker sections of society and about the role of the state machinery in promoting and protecting these spaces in accordance with constitutional provisions.
Fake encounters and the loss of innocent lives through state violence under the pretext of anti-Naxal action
In this context important developments have taken place in the Surguja district and then Dantewara (South Bastar) district. In Surguja, in village Maundar on October 22, 2004, three villagers were killed by police and the incident was later reported as an encounter killing of suspected Naxalites. In Dantewara, three villagers were killed an one seriously injured in Golapally village in police firing in the month of November. While the police initially claimed that the deaths were in cross fire between police and Naxalites, the injured victim released a statement saying that the killings were conducted by the police in Cold Blood. Shri Amarnath Pandey, Executive Committee member Chhattisgarh PUCL, is enquiring into the Surguja incident, and is yet to submit his full report although a preliminary enquiry by Shri Pandey and Dr. Binayak Sen indicated that those killed were villagers who were engaged in plucking tamarind. The incident in Dantewara was investigated by a 4 member team and the detailed report of the Golapalli incident is appended herewith.
Report of the investigation conducted by the fact-finding team of the Chhattisgarh PUCL into the incident of 5th November 2004 at Village Gullapalli, Tehsil Konta, District Dantewada
Concerned by reports that appeared in the media on 6th, 7th and 8th November 2004 regarding an incident at Village Gollapalli, Tehsil Konta, District Dantewada variously describing it as “cross firing between security forces and Naxalites” and as “a police encounter”; by the grossly contradictory press statements regarding the incident by the Inspector General of Police (C.G.) and of a person sustaining injuries in the incident; and by the fact that three innocent youth had been killed and another grievously injured, the Chhattisgarh Lok Swatantraya Sangathan (PUCL) decided to investigate into the incident.
Accordingly a fact finding team consisting of Dr Binayak Sen, Secretary, Chhattisgarh PUCL; Smt. Sudha Bharadwaj, Advocate and activist of the Chhattisgarh Mahila Mukti Morcha; Shri Akshay Thakur, Editor Krishak Yug, Rajnandgaon and Shri Shiv Shankar Dumbe, activist of the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram (Dantewada) visited Bhadrachalam (A.P.), Village Gollapalli, and Konta town (Tehsil Head Quarters) on 10th November 2004. The team visited and photographed the site of the incident; spoke to eye witnesses - the injured Shiksha Karmi as also the family members of the victims; and recorded their statements.
The report submitted by this fact finding team after such investigation is as follows:
Statement of Santosh Kumar Thakur
Following the lead of newspaper reports that the Shiksha Karmi injured in the incident had been shifted to Bhadrachalam, the team visited the Tehsil Hospital, Bhadrachalam where we found Santosh Kumar Thakur, accompanied by his brother and some friends, admitted in a ward. As visible in the photographs taken by the team, he had sustained bullet injuries in the right upper thigh and above the left elbow. The latter bullet had grazed his chest and thus his survival was quite miraculous. Santosh Thakur’s left forearm had been fractured and was in plaster, a bone of the forearm obviously protruding. Though in pain and appearing weak, he willingly narrated the events of 5th November and allowed his statement to be videotaped by the PUCL team. He evidently was still deeply grieved by the death of his colleagues and student.
According to Santosh Kumar Thakur, on 5th November 2004 at about 4-4.30 p.m., he, Malla Ram Markam (also a Shiksha Karmi), and a 12 year old student of Class VII - Hapka Nagendra who resides with him, were all in the Teachers Quarter at Village Gollapalli. They were preparing to go to Santosh Thakur’s home at Konta, the Tehsil town about 40 kilometres away, to celebrate Diwali, as the school holidays were to begin the next day. Santosh Thakur and Markam were packing their clothes, while Nagendra was tending to the stove. Sodhi Hidma, also a young Sanvida Shikshak, had taken stumps and bat out to play cricket in the space between the Teachers Quarter and the abandoned residential quarter of the Forest Department.
It was the practice of these teachers to play cricket every evening with the children of the settlement, and Sodhi Hidma was in fact busy driving in the stumps at the time when they heard the sound of a blast. On hearing the blast, Sodhi Hidma left the stumps and bat and rushed into the Teachers Quarter. The four persons closed the doors and windows of the Teachers Quarter and hid there in fright.
Then they heard the voices of the Police and SAF Personnel (now Chhattisgarh Armed Force ?) shouting, demanding to know who was there, and ordering them to come out otherwise they would blow up the house. The armed personnel had surrounded the house from all sides. Santosh Thakur and the others inside the house pleaded that they were teachers and not Naxalites, but their entreaties were to no avail.
When the youth finally came out, they were mercilessly kicked and beaten with rifle butts. The police people were saying “All these bastards are with them.” Sodhi Hidma was injured in the head, while Santosh Thakur’s forearm was broken. Then the SAF jawans came running and simply started shooting all of them. Sodhi Hidma appears to have died on the spot. Hapka Nagendra was crying for water and attempting to get back into the house, He was shot in the verandah and succumbed to his injuries. Malla Ram Markam sustained a number of bullet injuries including in the abdomen, and was groaning and writhing in pain. Santosh Thakur told the team that in order to escape being beaten further, he closed his eyes and lay down motionless even though he was in great pain after being shot in the thigh and arm. He heard sounds of his quarter being searched. After some time students were brought from the nearby Boys Hostel and he heard them identify that these are our teachers.
The boys were told to search the pockets of their teachers. Predictably nothing was found in the search. Then the SAF and Police personnel got the students to carry the two dead and two injured persons on bicycles to the Thana Gollapalli.
At Thana Gollapalli, after some time, the dresser of the Health Department came and dressed the wounds of Santosh Thakur and Malla Ram Markam. Markam was in great pain owing to the bullet in his abdomen. He was shouting, ”Shoot me once more and let me die.” But no further medical treatment was provided to them. Santosh Thakur stated that at about 8.30 p.m., Malla Ram Markam succumbed to his injuries right in front of his eyes. The three dead bodies were laid out on a plastic sheet. After Markam’s death he became very frightened and kept on pleading with the police people to provide him medical treatment. The “DF” police (District or local police force) even privately admitted to him that a mistake had occurred, but no medical treatment was provided.
Early next morning, on 6th November, he was handed over to the Sarpanch Nagesh Rao and Gram Sachiv Somaru Ram Markam of Village Gollapalli. He narrated the entire events to Somaru Ram Markam, and then put the same down in his own writing under his signature, and handed the statement over to Somaru Ram. He heard later that this statement was submitted by Somaru Ram to the Tehsildar (Konta) the very same day.
He stated that he was then taken to Konta Hospital for treatment. There he was subsequently questioned by correspondents of various newspapers regarding the incident of 5th November, which he narrated truthfully. Since the treatment at Konta Hospital was inadequate, Santosh Thakur had been referred to the nearest well-equipped hospital, namely at Bhadrachalam, Andhra Pradesh, where he had been brought by Constable Kunjam. Since then he had been recuperating at Bhadrachalam. No other official of the police or administration of the Government of Chhattisgarh had come to visit him since then. Nor had any official come to record his eye- witness account of the incident of 5th November.
This statement of Santosh Kumar Thakur, the major part of which was also videotaped by the PUCL Team, was entirely consistent with the statement he had made to correspondents of the press at the Konta Hospital on 6th November, and appeared to be entirely authentic. When specifically questioned regarding the allegation of the Inspector General of Police that this statement was being given “under pressure of Naxalites”, he specifically and categorically denied the same.
He also firmly reiterated, on being specifically questioned, that the death of his two colleagues and minor student had occurred because of deliberate close range firing by SAF personnel, compounded, in the case of Malla Ram Markam, by deliberate medical negligence. He categorically denied any theory of “cross firing by Naxalites.”
Santosh Kumar Thakur expressed to us his heartfelt wish that his statement which had been conveyed to the administration as early as on 6th November, be registered as the F.I.R. of the incident of 5th November at Village Gollapalli, and that the guilty SAF jawans be tried for murder.
Visit to village Gollapalli
Village Gollapalli, about 40 km from the Tehsil Head Quarters of Konta, lies on the Dantewada – Maraiguda road which is shown on the State Road Map as a State Highway. In practice we found it to be a barely navigable road in reasonably thick jungle, dug up at regular intervals. The trenches had been hastily and partially filled up, probably the previous day, to facilitate the visit of the leader of the Opposition - Mahendra Karma. According to villagers, this road had been in reasonably good condition till a Thana was established at Gollapalli, thus earning the wrath of the Naxalites. A number of Anti-Mine Trucks parked outside the Thana Maraiguda, about 20 km from Village Gollapalli had already indicated to us the “war-like” situation prevailing in this area.
The campus of Thana Gollapalli is surrounded by barbed wire fencing and a policemen surveyed our vehicle with binoculars as we passed. The site of the incident is not very far from this Thana, being the settlement where all the government buildings of the village – the Primary Health Centre, the Forest Rest-house, the Boys Hostel, the Anganwadi, the Post Office, the Ration Shops and the residences of the government employees of the health, education, and postal departments are located. (The offices and residences of the Forest department are all abandoned. It appears that the “dadas” (Naxalites) have instructed the forest department employees that they need not bother to protect the forest since the adivasis are quite capable of doing so themselves, so they mostly live at Konta.) The village households, scattered in mohallas, are at some distance from this settlement. When we arrived the air was still silent and heavy as if in mourning, and only after some time did villagers begin to gather and answer our queries. The team prepared a schematic map of the site of the incident that is annexed to this report.
We saw Laloo’s ration shop at one corner of the settlement. It appears that on the evening of 5th November, just as the police and jawans were leaving the ration shop with their supplies loaded on bicycles, a blast had occurred. A depression on the right of the entrance showed the site of the blast. The depth and radius of the depression showed that the blast was not a very large one, and indeed we were told that there had been no injuries/casualties. Even the bamboo fencing of the ration shop was intact. The dug up wire of the mine was traceable till about 100 metres in the direction of the forest (to the right of the entrance).
The official version of the incident is that, after the blast, Naxalites began firing at the police party from the forest behind the ration shop. The villagers, however, unanimously refuted this. The team examined and photographed some scratches in two trees claimed by the police to be bullet marks caused by the firing of Naxalites. In the opinion of the team, these scratches appear to have been caused most probably by breaking off branches or by digging with some small implement. There were no bullets embedded in either tree trunk, nor any marks showing any bullets having passed through the tree trunk.
The Teachers Quarter is at a distance of about 100 metres from the ration shop. About halfway between the quarter and the ration shop is the abandoned residential quarter of the employees of the Forest Department. We were told that the young teachers and their students were in the habit of playing cricket in the well-worn space between this Forest department building and the Teachers Quarter. In fact the team observed the mark of the stumps and we were told that on the day of the incident the stump and bat had been left behind by Sodhi Hidima, when he rushed to take shelter in the Teacher’s Quarter.
The team photographed the soil outside the Teachers Quarter on which bloodstains were still visible where, according to eyewitnesses Dinesh and Shivkumar, Sodhi Hidma and Malla Ram Markam had fallen. These witnesses also told us that the crimson bloodstain visible in the verandah was where Hapka Nagendra lay crying for water. There also was a trail of blood from the entrance of the quarter to this spot. The small room of the teachers showed signs of packing, and still smelt strongly of kerosene, which the villagers accused police persons of having spilt in attempting to obliterate the blood stains.
The team recorded and videotaped the statements of the two young boys who had observed the entire incident through the window of their house just opposite the Teacher’s Quarter. Both Dinesh and Shiv Kumar stated that they were playing outside, had hidden in the room after hearing the blast, and had observed the incident from the window. The accounts narrated by Dinesh and Shiv Kumar fully corroborate the statement of Santosh Kumar Thakur. They saw the police and SAF personnel surround the quarter and shout for the teachers to come out or else they would blow up the quarter. They heard the teachers plead that they were teachers and not Naxalites. They saw the police people kicking and hitting the four youth with rifle butts, and the SAF personnel fire at them.
They clearly identified the dead and injured youth. These boys told the PUCL Team that they had already narrated the account of the incident to the leader of the Opposition Mahendra Karma the previous day, yet no government official had yet recorded their statement in respect of this incident. In fact it is clear that no effort whatsoever has been made by the State to elicit any statement from any resident of the village regarding this incident.
Rather, according to the villagers, ever since the incident, more CRPF personnel have been posted at Thana Gollapalli. On the day when Mahendra Karma visited the village, there was an overwhelming presence of policemen, SAF and CRPF personnel in the village, almost as if to threaten any person who spoke out. Despite such intimidation, the young students Dinesh and Shivkumar had spoken out, unfortunately their statements appear not to have stirred the administration into action.
The villagers also stressed another important piece of evidence in this case, namely, the empty shells found near the blood stain in the verandah of the teacher’s quarter. In fact the Gram Sachiv Somaru Ram Markam, whose statement we shall deal with in detail in the subsequent section, submitted to the team various photographs including a photograph of the said shells as they lay in proximity to the blood stain. We were told that these shells, which had been in the custody of the village representatives, had been handed over to Shri Mahendra Karma requesting a proper investigation into the incident.
The villagers told the team, that from time to time “Naxalite” posters in red ink mysteriously appear on the walls and trees of the villages in the night and the main task of the armed personnel is to get other government servants to tear these off at the earliest opportunity. It appears that in the night of 8th November too, some posters had appeared demanding that the Thana In-Charge of Gollapalli should be suspended, and that those who had shot the teachers and student should be punished. The armed patrol had torn all these posters down, but they were too terrified to remove the poster stuck on the teacher’s quarter themselves, fearing that a mine be located there. So they had got some village children to remove it!
Women of the village also expressed their fears and anxieties to the team. They stated that the armed personnel have become so paranoid about the villagers being “in with the Naxalites”, that they look upon every villager and every action of a villager as suspicious. They claimed that the lady of the ration shop had been so harassed she had fallen sick. They said that things have come to a point when we fear that if our husbands and sons go out from the village, they might be indiscriminately fired upon for no reason at all. The women broke down recalling the piteous scene of the entire peoples of three villages – Village Veerapuram of Malla Ram Markam, Village Gondiguda of Sodhi Hidma, and Village Gangler of Hapka Nagendra – coming to the spot and loudly weeping over the death of the innocent young boys.
Statements of the family members of the deceased
Somaru Ram Markam is the Gram Sachiv of Village Gollapalli. He is also the elder brother of Malla Ram Markam, one of the Shiksha Karmis who was killed in the incident of 5th November 2004. The fact finding team spoke to him and recorded his statement at his house in Konta. Somaru Ram appeared to be deeply affected by the incident of 5th November, both as the brother of a victim and as a representative of his village, but he also firmly asserted his demand for justice.
Somaru Ram Markam stated that the SDOP Konta contacted him in the night of 5th November and told him that his brother had been seriously injured in Police-Naxalite cross-fire, hence he should take an ambulance and go to Thana Gollapalli immediately. With great difficulty he contacted the medical personnel and managed an ambulance. By the time he reached Thana Gollapalli along with Sarpanch Nagesh Rao of Gollapalli, it was almost 12 midnight. They shouted to be allowed to see the injured and take them in the ambulance for medical treatment. The Thana personnel refused to let them enter the Thana, or even see the injured, let alone take them away. After repeated efforts, and after time and again identifying themselves as the Sarpanch and Sachiv of the village, the Thana personnel sent the police Dresser Kashyap to the barbed wire boundary of the Thana. He revealed that Sodhi Hidma and Hapka Nagendra had died on the spot itself, that Malla Ram Markam had succumbed at about 8.30 p.m. after great pain and suffering, and that the injured Santosh Kumar Thakur was still alive. Somaru Ram Markam was understandably shattered, yet he composed himself and again pleaded with the Thana personnel that at least Santosh Kumar Thakur might be handed over to them so that they could take him for medical treatment. However the Thana personnel flatly refused and asked them to come in the morning.
Somaru Ram Markam stated that the next morning, that is on 6th November 2004, he and the Sarpanch again went to Thana Gollapalli. Then Santosh Kumar Thakur was handed over to them to be taken for medical treatment. Somaru Ram inquired of Santosh Kumar Thakur what had happened, and the latter related the incident as narrated in his statement above. Thereupon Somaru Ram persuaded him to put the statement down in his own writing, which he did, despite his serious condition. This statement Somaru Ram later personally handed over to the Tehsildar (Konta) on the very same day.
Somaru Ram Markam stated that only he and the Sarpanch were allowed to enter Thana Gollapalli where they saw the dead bodies of Sodhi Hidima, Hapka Nagendra and Malla Ram Markam laid out on a polythene sheet. The bodies clearly bore marks and bruises of beatings. Sodhi Hidima had injuries in the head and bullet wound in the back.
Malla Ram Markam had multiple bullet injuries including in the abdomen. The bodies of the dead were not handed over to their relatives until the post mortem was completed. Somaru Ram and the Sarpanch had remained during the post mortem. It appeared to him that the Doctor conducting the post mortem did take note of all the injuries, but since he does not have a copy of the Post-mortem Report it is not possible to assess the veracity of the final report. Somaru Ram Markam gave the team photographs of the dead persons as also copies of other photographs, which he and other representatives of the village had taken of the site of the incident.
Somaru Ram stated that he also made inquiries from the village people on 6th November and from their statements and other evidence at the site, he had also concluded that there had not been any incident of cross-fire, rather the three young teachers and student had been beaten mercilessly and shot on mere suspicion by the SAF and police, without any investigation whatsoever. He expressed that, even if the armed personnel had any suspicion about these youth, they could have arrested them, searched them or interrogated them but they chose to simply kill them in cold blood. He was also extremely bitter that even after coming to know that these young men were not Naxalites but innocent teachers, the armed personnel did not make any effort to provide them proper medical treatment. Malla Ram Markam had died about four hours after the incident and prompt medical attention could have saved his life. Thus the armed personnel had multiplied their crime by such criminal negligence.
The team also recorded the statement of Hapka Mukta, elder brother of the dead student Hapka Nagendra. Their parents are dead and Hapka Mukta was somehow supporting his brother to study by working as a samvida shikshak (contract teacher) at village Kottur, which falls under panchayat Maraiguda. Hapka Mukta’s statement that the body of his deceased brother was handed over to him only on the evening of the 6th of November after the post mortem had been conducted corroborated the evidence of Samaru Ram . He was not present during the post mortem, nor was he given a copy of the post mortem report.
Attitude of the administration
The fact-finding team of the PUCL reached Village Gollapalli on 10th November 2004. We were shocked to find that till then, no senior officer whatsoever of the police or the district administration had even visited the village.
No statement had been issued regarding the incident by the Superintendent of Police, or the Collector, Dantewada. The only statements appearing in the press were those of the Inspector General of Police, according to whom, three persons had been killed by Naxalites, or in cross-fire when the police engaged with Naxalites. We regret to state that, on visiting the site and gathering preliminary evidence, there does not seem to be any prima facie basis whatsoever for the statements issued by the IG Police.
What is most unfortunate is that, despite the eye-witness account of Santosh Kumar Thakur being available with the authorities right from 6th November onwards, and his consistent subsequent statements to the same effect, no FIR has been registered on the basis of his statement. Nor has any effort whatsoever been made to investigate the incident of 5th November.
The statement of the Home Minister that the youth killed were members of Sangham, i.e. Naxalites, also appears to be baseless. Besides in this case, the youth were killed even before such allegation could be proved or disapproved. Merely reprimanding the press for glorifying Naxalites, or for lowering the morale of the armed forces, whenever the press reports a case of possible human rights violation, falls abysmally short of the responsibilities of the State government in these circumstances.
On the other hand, the statements made to the fact finding team by the representatives of local self-government bodies like Shri Mukesh, Janpad Adhyaksh, Konta or Shri Nagesh Rao, Sarpanch Gollapalli showed that they all strongly condemned the Gollapalli incident and are demanding that the armed personnel guilty of killing innocent youth be tried for murder.
The dichotomy that the State agencies increasingly find themselves in, in a large part of the Bastar region became symbolically visible to us in the fact that while armed personnel bearing automatic weapons swaggered around in civilian dress on the streets of Dantewada and Konta, armed personnel in Village Gollapalli appeared caged into the barbed wire boundary of their thana, reacting in a paranoid manner even to a poster stuck on a wall. The same dichotomy was apparent when the wife of Constable Khileshwar Sahu of Bhejji Thana, abducted by Naxalites shortly before 1st November 2004, met us just as we were embarking upon our investigation at Konta and requested us to convey her appeal to the State administration to make efforts for the release of her husband since her appeal to the Superintendent of Police had gone unanswered. However, as we bring out this report, the press informs us that Khileshwar Sahu and Geeta Prasad Banjare have been released.
What is increasingly clear is, that neither repression nor crocodile tears can bridge the ever widening chasm between the common people and trigger happy policemen, only the prompt delivery of justice can resolve this crisis of faith.
The Chhattisgarh PUCL demands that:
- That an FIR be lodged forthwith against the armed personnel attached to the P.S. Gollapalli in respect of the incident of 5th November 2004, on the basis of the statement repeatedly and consistently made by the injured witness Santosh Kumar Thakur. That sanction be granted by the State Government without delay to try the accused of the Gollapalli incident for murder.
- That the entire personnel that had been attached to P.S. Gollapalli on 5th November 2004 should be kept under suspension during the pendency of criminal trial. That it be ensured that the eyewitnesses of the Gollapalli incident may depose without fear.
- That apart from compensation, the family of the victims of the incident should continue to receive the salaries of the deceased including revisions in scale from time to time upto their normal age of superannuation.
- That in view of the series of grave human rights violations being committed by the Special Armed Forces and Central Reserve Police Force, such unaccountable central forces be withdrawn from Bastar division and other districts of Chhattisgarh.
– Dr. Binayak Sen, Sudha Bharadwaj, Akshay Thakur, Shiv Shankar Dumbey, Dated 12th November 2004, Raipur.
Violation of D.K. Basu protocol
Chhattisgarh has a poor record of observations of human rights protocols including and most prominently the D.K. Basu Protocol in regard to rights of accused or those facing police arrests. There have been several known cases of violation of D.K. Basu Protocol in the recent history of Chhattisgarh. Such incidents abound from the time before the formation of the state, and have continued into its three year journey. Several custody deaths and deaths in false encounters have been reported.
A few of the most prominent cases are detailed below for review:
Deaths in custody of Sunhar Nishad on 14 January 1999; Deaths in Custody of Baldau Kaushik on 23 May, 2002; Deaths in false encounter of Prasidhi Thakur on 22 August, 2003; Deaths in false encounter with CRPF personnel of Budhram and Sukhram Sahu at village Jiramtarai on 17 November, 2003; Rape of a woman by uniformed police personnel in Thana Kusmi in Sarguja District on 3 April 2004; Deaths in Custody of Ramkumar Dhru on 13 August, 2004 at Suhela Thana.
Report of PUCL investigation into the custody deaths of Sunhar Nishad on 14 January 1999
Sunhar Nishad was a poor person from a village near Rajim in Raipur district, who was arrested along with his father-in-law on a charge of petty theft. He died due to torture in police custody in the Nayapara Thana. His father-in-law was an eye witness to this effect. PUCL, Chhattisgarh conducted an investigation in to this incident, and published a report. Although this matter dates from the period before the state of Chhattisgarh came in to existence, the matter was referred to the State Human Rights Commission of the new State after 1 November, 2000.
Report of PUCL investigation into the custody death of Baldau Kaushik on 23 May, 2002
The case of Baldau Kaushik’s custody death first came to public attention through newspaper reports. A PUCL team comprising of Shri H.R. Prajapti and Smt. Sandhya Khare investigated the case on 19.9.2002 and submitted the following report:
Baldau Kaushik was a farmer with approximately 40 acres of land belonging to Hathlewa village, 35 km north of Kawardha the district headquarter of Kabirdham. He was taken into custody on 22.5.2002 in connection with enquiries into the death of Sunaina Jaiswal whose body had been found at her home on 26.4.02. She had been murdered after having been raped.
Baldau Kaushik was one of seven persons who were called for integration to the Thana on 22.5.02. The others were Ramkrij Mandavi, Kutumbdas (Kotwar), Lala Kaushik, Ramji Kaushik, Raju Khan, Ubhe Gadariya. All of the others except Baldau Kaushik were sent home to Hathlewa in a police van on the night of 22.5.02.
When Baldau did not return home on 23.5.02 his brother Ramavtar went to Kawardha Thana to enquire and was told by T.I. Ambrish Sharma and ASI Ram Asatkar that he had been released on the night of 22.6.02. His family searched for him in vain and lodged FIR on the 25.5.02. During enquiries Homeguard Vijay testified that he had seen Ambrish Shram and ASI Asatkar transporting on a motorcycle to a lonely place. He also testified that Astkar had been seen digging a grave and burying Baldau’s body at lonely spot on the way to Bhoramdev on night of the 23.5.02 . Based on this testimony, the body was recovered and cases instituted against the concerned police man.
Ambrish Sharma went absconding on 1.6.02 and committed suicide by hanging at a lodge in his home town Seoni on 21.6.02. he left the suicide note saying that he had merely been carrying out the order of his superiors.
The matter was referred to the State Human Rights Commission which indicted inspector Rakesh Shrivastava of Kawardha Thana and other officials of the Kawardha Police Establishment.
Report of PUCL investigation into custody death of Prasidhi Thakur, social activist in Sarguja
On August 23, 2003 the additional SP of Balrampur, Dharmendragarh announced to the press that the zonal commander of MCC, a stated Naxlite organization, had died in a police encounter at 7 pm on August 22, in the Baskatiya Forests. This statement of the additional SP was challenged by several people’s organization in Sarguja who expressed their opinion that Prasidh Thakur had been killed in police custody and a fake encounter had been staged to camouflage the real facts.
Chhattisgarh PUCL decided to investigate the reality behind these contradictory positions and conduct an independent fact finding in to the incident. In this context the state PUCL unit of Jharkhand was contacted and a joint team of Jharkhand PUCL and Chhattisgarh PUCL was constituted with the following members:
1. Dr. Binayak Sen, 2. Advocate Amarnath Panday, 3. Advocate Shrawan Chandel, 4. Shri Madan Yadav (all from Chhattisgarh PUCL), 5. Shri Shashibhushan Pathak, 6. Shri Triveni Singh, 7. Shri Hemendra Pratap Dehati, 8. Mohd. Akhtar Ansari, 9. Shri S.N. Pathak, 10. Shri Ramupukar Singh (all from Jharkhand PUCL).
On 12.10.03 the team visited Indrapur Khori village and spoke at length with village people. According to the testimony of villagers, people in the area were not aware of Prasidh Thakur as a naxilite commander. They also testified that Prasidh Thakur had been visiting their village as well as other villages in the area for last two years. Because of his age he was in a fatherly relationship with many village people. The villagers said that they had never seen him in any uniform. He was normally dressed in a Loongi and Vest and had one set of trousers and shirts. On the day of the incident Prasidh Thakur was in their village and at about 2 pm Girdhari Lal, Sarpanch of Lodha village had come to meet Prasidh Thakur. Shortly after he left, the police party arrived in the village and searched the house of Guruprasad, and Hari Yadav. Prasidh Thakur was taken in to custody from the house of the Hari Yadav at about 4.30 pm. Earlier in the day he had taken a bath at the well of Shankar Singh and had taken lunch at the house of another village. He was resting in the house of Hari Yadav when he was arrested.
People were initially unwilling to talk to the investigating team for fear of police reprisals, but once their realized that this was a human rights team, they came out openly with their version of the incident and other details pertaining to it.
The main findings of the investigation are as follows:
- The committee cross-examined many villagers and their versions of the time and nature of the incident were in agreement with one another.
- Prasidh Thakur was arrested by the police at about 4.30 pm from the house of Hari Yadav in the presence of Sadhu Charan, former Sarpanch of the village. At the time of arrest Prasidh Thakur was relaxing on a Charpai and reading a book and Sadhu Charan was lying on a blanket next to him.
- The police party that made the arrest had come to the village Indrapur Khori on the same day.
- Prasidh Thakur’s bag was seized from the house of Naresh after breaking open the lock on the door.
- A few days after the incident 8 to 10 villagers of the area around the Baskatia Forest were taken to the Police Thana for some “paper work”.
- None of the provisions of the DK Basu Protocol were adhered to in the arrest of Prasidh Thakur.
- The village people did not know anything about the recovery of the body of Prasidh Thakur in the Baskatia Forest and about routine police procedures of Panchnama etc. thereafter.
- The investigating committee could not collect any details regarding the Panchnama a fore said or Postmortem Reports.
- The committee contacted the additional SP of Ramanujganj on telephone no. 273202 at 7:45 pm. On 12.10.03 to know his reactions. The latter declined to give his comments without consulting his superior officers.
- The committee also contacted the officer’s incharge of Ramanujganj Thana on telephone no. 273217 with a request for a meeting. The latter told the committee that it was better not to visit Ramanujganj as the there was threat of mistreatment of the committee members by the security staff.
- The police viewpoint on the incident was thus not available to the committee, despite efforts.
- From a prima facie examination of the evidence this appears to be a case of murder in police custody.
- The committee is forced to come to the conclusion that Constitutional and Human rights provisions have been violated in this incident.
- The committee is also of the opinion that senior police officials like the SP Sarguja and DIG Sarguja zone, who visited the area after the incident are either deliberately ignoring the rules of conduct of their service at the least, or are engaged in a conspiracy to falsify the facts relating to the case at the worst. There is also a possibility that the police officials of Ramanujganj have contributed to feeding misinformation to their senior officials.
- The murder of Prasidh Thakur in police custody is a culpable offence. It is the duty of the police to register an FIR wherever they have reason to suspect a culpable offence. It is to be noted that no such procedure was initiated despite several indication that this was called for from an analysis the facts.
- The committee would like to recommend to the state and national human rights commissions that they take immediate cognizance of this report and initiate proceedings against the guilty officials.
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